Monday, October 08, 2007

Science will not set us free – or why approving the Tasmanian pulp mill is wrong

The federal government's decision to back the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania's Tamar Valley is wrong.

Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull's justification to support the pulp mill based on the 'science' of the Chief Scientist's report and recommendation is just hiding political expediency behind the 'black and white' of science. By claiming that the 'science' has 'spoken' is just hiding a wrong decision behind a flimsy excuse. Opposition Environment spokesperson Peter Garret's and the ALP's similar justification for their support for the Minister's decision is no better!

For one, the Chief Scientist's analysis was lopsided and narrow! How can he on the one hand advise the government that Australia needs to plant more trees to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop global warming, and on the other hand support the development of a pulp mill that will directly result in logging more trees than is sustainable? This kind of 'single-issue' science is blinkered and not only fails to consider the big picture, but is highly politic!

Further, the Chief Scientist did not consider the impact of the pulp mill on air quality or on the forests. How can his advice be taken at face value as providing a whole picture on the environmental impact of the mill?

More importantly, we cannot rely on science alone to justify or inform our actions. Especially as science does not actually work on certainties, but on levels of risk. Rather than being able to categorically state that the conditions placed on the mill shall make it 'safe', scientists rely instead on what are acceptable levels of of pollution, toxin, or danger to the environment and people – ie what are 'acceptable' levels of risk. Why offer us the false certainty of 'science' without being honest to us about the levels of risk scientists are prepared to accept – on our behalf?

In all, science should only help to guide our decisions, not dictate them. In the final analysis, the basis of the decision should be 'is this the right thing?'

Is this pulp mill the right thing for protecting forests, or reducing greenhouse gases? Is this pulp mill the right thing for the marine environment in the Bass Strait, or fisheries that rely on it? Is this pulp mill the right thing for ensuring the the viability of local sustainable fisheries against imported cheap fish and prawns from unsustainable fisheries and aquaculture elsewhere?

Is this pulp mill the right thing for protecting the health and safety of the residents in the Tamar Valley, or the growing food, wine, tourism and related industries there? Is this pulp mill the right thing for protecting Aboriginal heritage and supporting Aboriginal people's continued connection to the land, including their food collecting and cultural practices in that area?

On these and many more factors, the pulp mill is NOT the right thing. The federal government's decision to support the mill, and the ALP's support for it, is WRONG, and the claim of 'world's best practice' for the mill is a flimsy veil of deception. We should not let short-sighted political gain win over our capacity to think and do what is the right thing.

In this case, the right thing is to stop the pulp mill.

If you want to help do this, you can sign the petition against the mill at Get Up Australia,
who say it is not too late to change this because "Nationwide opposition has forced the Federal Environment Minister to allow ten days of public comment before making his final decision."

Of course, the other thing people can do is put this issue on the agenda for the federal election: this has the chance to shift some of the polls-driven obsession with the lower house
to some much needed attention on the Senate, and who will hold the balance of power there!

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